150 sex assault survivors send government $7M in 'invoices'

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150 sex assault survivors send government $7M in 'invoices'

More than 150 sexual assault survivors are sending $7 million worth of invoices to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Their goal? To demonstrate just how expensive it is to be attacked.

"Often we talk in terms of trauma, emotional harm, but we don't think about the actual logistics of, 'Can I actually afford to be sexually assaulted right now,'" said Mandi Gray, a York University PhD student who was sexually assaulted in January 2015.  

Gray put out an online survey asking survivors to attach dollar amounts to costs they have shouldered. The answers that came back were "heartbreaking."

"Tuition costs were huge," she said. Many of the respondents said they dropped out of school after being assaulted. Also substantial were "legal fees, paying for therapy, paying for medication and other medical procedures."  

Gray is intimately familiar with the heavy cost of being attacked, citing major delays in her PhD studies and "thousands of dollars" worth of therapy, as well as the cost of hiring her own lawyer during the trial of the man who assaulted her.

On Tuesday, Gray was among a group some 20 survivors and allies demonstrating at a downtown Toronto courthouse, bringing with her a novelty cheque made out to "all the J. Doe's" and printed with a replica of Justin Trudeau's signature.

"Who's the boss of my body? I am," the demonstrators chanted.

Superior Court to hear appeal today

The timing of the demonstration was no coincidence.

On Tuesday, Mustafa Ururyar, the man found guilty in July 2016 of sexually assaulting Gray, appealed his conviction at the Superior Court of Justice.

Ururyar was ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution to Gray to cover a portion of the money she spent on her own lawyer.

"I felt that everybody else had lawyers … I was the only one who was unrepresented, and I was the most vulnerable," she said.

The $8,000 restitution order has proved "controversial," said Gray, with a national criminal lawyers' association joining the appeal case as interveners to argue that Ururyar should not have to pay.

Anthony Moustacalis, president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, told CBC Toronto that his group felt strongly that the section of the Criminal Code that pertains to restitution should be interpreted "narrowly" and not be "stretched" to put defendants on the hook for the legal costs incurred by a victim.

He also said victims have the support they need already — without hiring their own lawyer — because the Crown attorney provides a "wide range of services."    

Gray disagrees, arguing that having her own lawyer provided an essential source of support. She said her lawyer advocated for her rights in the courtroom while she was being cross-examined.  

More financial support needed

Moustacalis and Gray agree on one thing: more support is needed from the government to help survivors in the months and years after they are attacked.

"If the federal [government] and indeed the province chose to fund that better, there would be more money available for victims of crime," said Moustacalis.

Gray cited Ontario's Independent Legal Advice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Pilot Program, which provides four hours of free legal advice to victims, as a step in the right direction, though she'd like to see it expanded and made permanent, because "four hours is not anywhere near enough."

Unsure of how Ururyar's appeal will turn out, Gray said she wanted to demonstrate on Tuesday to make the point that change needs to come to the way survivors are supported. 

"Either it's going to happen through the courts or it's going to have to happen through legislative changes," she said.

"The $8,000 ordered to me through restitution was really inconsequential compared to the other costs I've taken. Those costs add up, and they add up quickly."